When Americans think of the criminal justice system, the image that comes to mind is a trial-a standard courtroom scene with a defendant, attorneys, a judge, and most important, a jury. It’s a fair assumption. The right to a trial by jury is enshrined in both the body of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It’s supposed to be the foundation that undergirds our entire justice system.
But in Punishment Without Trial: Why Plea Bargaining Is a Bad Deal, University of North Carolina law professor Carissa Byrne Hessick shows that the popular conception of a jury trial couldn’t be further from reality. That bedrock constitutional right has all but disappeared thanks to the unstoppable march of plea bargaining, which began to take hold during Prohibition and has skyrocketed since 1971, when it was affirmed as constitutional by the Supreme Court.
Nearly every aspect of our criminal justice system encourages defendants-whether they’re innocent or guilty-to take a plea deal. Punishment Without Trial showcases how plea bargaining has undermined justice at every turn and across socioeconomic and racial divides. It forces the hand of lawyers, judges, and defendants, turning our legal system into a ruthlessly efficient mass incarceration machine that is dogging our jails and punishing citizens because it’s the path of least resistance. Professor Hessick makes the case against plea bargaining as she illustrates how it has damaged our justice system while presenting an innovative set of reforms for how we can fix it.
An impassioned, urgent argument about the future of criminal justice reform, Punishment Without Trial will change the way you view the criminal justice system.